Keeping parrots in their place

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking into conservation issues involving parrots, and it turns out that there are two very different sides to this story: on the one hand, habitat destruction and the pet trade are threatening wild populations around the world; on the other hand, the pet trade (and to a certain extent habitat modification) has led to the release of parrots in new locations where some invasive populations have been able to establish. Addressing these issues is complicated, in part because poaching and smuggling is involved, and also because populations founded by released animals have a lot of supporters who don’t want the birds to be treated as invasives. So how do we make sure that wild populations don’t disappear from their native ranges and try to slow the spread of non-native species? There are many ways that we can contribute to these efforts, so I think there is something for everyone here.

Blue macaws!

Blue macaws!

For the parrot and parakeet fancier:

  • Hopefully it goes without saying, but never release a pet bird into the wild, and there are many good reasons for this aside from the invasive species aspect- many birds, including parrots, must learn how to be effective foragers and evaders of predators- if they don’t have those skills and are released to have a ‘normal, wild life’, they oftentimes starve or are easy prey.


  • When purchasing a bird, ensure that it is captive-reared and has the paperwork to prove it (if it was bred and raised in your own country, even better)- this will reduce pressure on wild populations from the pet trade and hopefully cut down on the black market as well.

Around the house:

  • Plant more native species- we often don’t think about how many of the plants in our gardens are exotics, but there are concerns about seeds and fruit from these being spread. In addition, these plants can provide an extra food base for exotic animals, such as parrots, and support population expansion. (And let me point out here that the goal is to not to deprive invasive parrot species of all food- but parrot populations with a smaller food base will be in breeding condition less often, leading to fewer chicks, and slower population growth.)
  • Buy bird-friendly coffee- the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has a certification program to ensure that migratory and tropical birds (such as parrots) are not negatively impacted by coffee production.
  • Be sure to recycle paper products and buy recycled paper to help reduce logging pressure on remaining parrot habitat.

Farther afield:

  • If you live near the Phoenix Zoo, which hosts a thick-billed parrot captive breeding program, collect and donate pine cones- it takes a lot of seeds to feed those birds, and they are happy to have your help for the parrot food supply. (And my guess is that other zoos probably have similar programs, so, if you’re not near Phoenix, talk to your local zoo about what you can do to help parrots.)
  • If you are in New South Wales, Australia, help Conservation Volunteers plant food trees and construct artificial nests for Australia’s superb parrot.


  • Do you have translation, web design, or data entry skills? The World Parrot Trust has a wishlist for donations in-kind, including services, so here’s your chance to get involved without having to get dirty.
  • A number of organizations have Adopt-A-Nest programs, including Bird Endowment which works with blue macaws in Bolivia.


  • Looking for a real challenge? You can volunteer in the field with ProFauna Indonesia– help with education, parrot surveys, and a variety of other tasks.

The ideas above run the gamut in terms of cost and time commitment, and I’ve only scratched the surface- find what works for you and go to it- I’d love to hear about how your adventures!